Parents of preemies definitely feel guilty about what may have happened to cause the birth to be so early. But what they tend to do when they visit the NICU day after day is rally around that little peanut in the incubator. There isn’t much time to feel guilty when they’re there, because the nurses encourage parents to feed, change, and hold their children as much as possible, except in the case of the most sickly kids.
I loved, loved this essay (“Preemies are not Props“) posted to Slate, written by Joel Keller. In it, Keller blasts the anti-smoking ad in which a mother attributes smoking as the cause for her infant’s preterm birth.
He’s a bit hard on the mother (she was young when she filmed the ad, after all), but I think he’s spot on about a couple of things, namely, a) that the anti-smoking ad campaign desensitizes viewers about the long-term effects of smoking by using shock-tactics b) that the ad itself risks desensitizing viewers to the particular challenges of preemies, and c) that while smoking is a risky behavior during pregnancy, there are a variety of reason why a baby is born prematurely–and many times, there’s no reason at all. In fact, “I did everything right,” tends to be a common refrain whenever parents tell their stories about their child’s journey.
On that note, I sometimes wonder about the discussion regarding prenatal care and prematurity. While I think access to proper, affordable prenatal care is essential in bringing down the preterm birth rate, I don’t think it’s going to magic away prematurity entirely. My concern is that mothers can be unfairly villianized when prematurity is discussed in such stark terms as cause-and-effect. Believe me, whether or not they have a reason, many mothers feel guilty enough as is, especially in the first few days after the birth, without an anti-smoking campaign or anyone else further adding to the pile.